Rod Actions

Posted on September 07, 192000 at 21:59:07:

Rod Actions

There certainly are a great variety of fly rods to choose from these days. From 0-13 weight, 7-15ft, extra fast to slow, light to heavy we certainly have many choices to make. When making a purchase most of us decide which line weight we want for a particular application then choose the length of rod and finally the rod action. Modern graphite rod production allows companies to offer rods in a great variety of tapers which ultimately influences rod action. In addition, there are other variables influencing action which I will discuss later. 'Rod action' can also be considered 'rod stiffness' or 'rod flexibility'. When I use the term 'fast rod' I am referring to a rod that generates high line speeds and flexes mostly at the top half remaining stiff through the but section. The term 'slow rod' would refer to one that recovers more slowly and generally flexes below the mid point and in some cases all the way to the handle.

Some people like fast action rods and some like slow rods. In most fishing situations it is totally up to the individual and their casting style. I would never try to advocate one over the other. I will however speak of my experiences with both fast and slow rods.

I prefer slower rods that flex through the midpoint of the rod when it comes to fly casting instruction for beginners. It is easier for the beginner to cast when they can feel the slower rod load and unload. This also assists the beginner in timing the cast appropriately.

When fishing the small rivers and streams near my home I prefer a slower rod because I am fishing very close. The slower rod loads better with short amounts of line out than would a faster rod. This means that at short distances the rod does most of the work not the angler. I especially enjoy the way a slow rod roll casts. This can be a real advantage if you frequent small overgrown waters.

Fast rods have many niches as well. A fast rod is a must when distance is an issue. The higher line speeds assist you with longer casts and help to combat the wind. Fast rods are the standard for coastal saltwater fly fishing where winds can make it difficult to cast large wind resistant flies.

Sinking lines are handled better with a fast rod. The increased 'load' presented by these lines makes the rod work much harder. The faster rods maintain their stamina when a slow rod might break down and be overloaded. In many cases the fast rods are more sensitive than the slower rods. Usually this is due to the fact that the fast rods are often lower in mass and therefore absorb less vibration allowing them to transfer even the slightest vibration to the angler. This is a real plus in subsurface nymph fishing.

One popular misconception about fast and slow rods is that a fast rod will cast a tighter loop than a slow rod. This is not true. You can cast paper clipped sized loops with both rods if you know what you are doing. You cannot, however, utilize the same casting arc with both the fast and slow rods and expect to have the same loops! You must modify your style of casting when you switch rod action if you want the same results.

Rod action is influenced by several things. These things all work together to give a rod a certain 'personality'. It is very difficult to quantify the personality of a rod although many companies are now trying it.

Blank taper and profile is a large variable affecting the action of a fly rod. Companies attempt to control the action of a blank by producing them with a variety of tapers and profiles. The properties of the materials used to manufacture the blank is another important variable. Most of today's rods are manufactured using graphite. There are differences in the manufacturing and bonding of graphite fibers. This can influence the action of the rod.

One very important factor influencing rod action that is often overlooked is the rod's overall mass. Things such as high build epoxies, double footed snake guides and excess blank cosmetics make a durable and pretty rod but sacrifice rod performance. Rods with a low mass are able to recover more quickly (making them faster) and transmit more vibration to the angler instead of absorbing it. In my opinion these low mass rods are finer casting instruments. You wouldn't want to take your best fly rod, stuff an apple on the end of it and go fishing. When a blank is weighed down with too many cosmetics that is, in a certain sense, what you are doing. The inertia from the extra mass slows the rod down. I think that the unconditional guarantee offered by many fly rod companies today has caused rods to be manufactured for durability first and performance second. This is unfortunate. The things that make a rod durable often decrease its performance. Many first time rod builders experience this when they buy a blank, add lots of extras and then expect the home built rod to have the same action as the one they saw in the fly shop with the same blank. It's a trade off folks.

Considering the great variety of rod actions available today it is wise to cast a rod before purchasing it. It's not enough to flex it in the local fly shop. That tells you nothing about the way the rod will behave with a line and the load of the water on it. Get out and cast it.

If you have any questions drop me an e mail at or give me a call at Northeast Anglers 1-800-558-7658

Gary D. Scavette is a registered Maine guide, USCG licensed captain and the president of Northeast Anglers Inc.

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